It is easy to preserve herbs and enjoy their garden fresh flavor all year long. Herbs grown for their foliage should be harvested before they flower for peak flavor and to encourage more leaf production. Up to 75% of currant growth can be removed at one time. Gather herbs in the morning, after the dew has dried but before the heat of the day. Cut stems from plant and remove any dry or diseased leaves. Rinse well with cold water to eliminate any dirt and insects and pat dry between paper towels.
Air dying herbs is the traditional and the easiest way to preserve herbs. This process allows the herbs to dry slowly and keeps the oils that are responsible for the flavor and aroma at their highest level. Remove lower leaves and secure about 4-6 stems together with string or a rubber band into bundles. Place the bundles in paper bags with a few small holes and loosely tighten opening of bags around stems. This will encourage good air circulation. Hang upside down in a dry, airy place away from direct sun. Sunlight will fade the color and dissipate the oils from the herbs. Hanging will allow the herbs to dry slowly while encouraging the plant oils to move from the stems into the leaves. Check after 2 weeks, when herbs are brittle remove from bags and store leaves in airtight, labeled containers. Another method of drying herbs is to spread them out in a single layer on window screens suspended in the air. Turn herbs over frequently to ensure even drying and store when dry. Low moisture content herbs like bay leaf, dill, marjoram, oregano, savory and thyme are well suited to drying.
Conventional ovens and food dehydrators can be used to dry herbs as well. When using an oven, spread herbs out in a single layer on a cookie sheet and place on the top rack. Set the oven at the lowest temperature setting possible and check frequently; it may be necessary to leave the door ajar to prevent burn. Follow the manufactures directions when using a food dehydrator.
A microwave can be used to dry small amounts of herbs in a hurry. Lay a single layer of dry, clean leaves on a paper plate and heat on high power for one-minute intervals until leaves are brittle allowing leaves to cool between intervals.
Freezing is also an easy way to preserve herbs. Spread a single layer of clean dry herbs on a cookie sheet and freeze. Transfer the frozen herbs into labeled freezer bags and seal. Another method would be to chop fresh herbs and add them to water filled ice cube trays and freeze. Transfer herb cubes to freezer bags, seal and store in the freezer. Some herbs that freeze well include: basil, chives, parsley, fennel, lemon grass and chervil. Chop chives and lemon grass before freezing. These are great for adding to soups and stews.
Preserved herbs have a shelf life of 6 months to a year, this time can be shortened if exposed to light, heat and open air. Use 1 teaspoon of a dried herb in place of 1 tablespoon of a fresh herb in a recipe. Dried herbs keep their flavor best when stored whole and crushed just before use.